To many of those who co-create it every year, Burning Man isn’t just the best party in the world, it’s the best place in the world. For the sole purpose of the experience of doing so, seventy thousand people engage in the pleasurable inconvenience of conjuring an ephemeral city in a desert, and collectively then live almost every aspect of human existence differently therein: home, friendship, food, architecture, time, connection are all re-invented and re-experienced every year at Burning Man. As gatherings go, Burning Man is the most all-encompassing, philosophical, and real.
This year of course, the Burn has moved online, something that presents a legitimate opportunity for skepticism to anyone who has been to the ‘real’ thing.
Indeed, the idea of an online version seems at first blush wholly far-fetched given how the regular embodied experience would seem to be almost the logical opposite of online social experience as we know it: it is after all the distance from interruption, the freedom from surveillance, the transcendence from the wretched seniority of seeming over being on social media, the sense of a pause in the everyday run of things that permits the participants of Burning Man to open up and live in full-bore openness to each other, in freedom from the banalities that dominate their everyday consciousnesses.
It demands simply an act of collective imagination
But Burning Man is and always has been an act of collective imagination. And imagination is a human attribute that doesn’t evaporate when we interact with computers. To certain of us, then, the online burn presents an opportunity to re-express the magic of Burning Man in a new medium, not to mention a wonderful opportunity to connect and experience joy in these dubious times.
BM org have seen this too, and with the luck of already having themed the 2020 Burn as the Multiverse, invited a handful of teams each to create a ‘universe’ in this ‘multiverse’.
The Sparkleverse Recipe to Bring the Burn Online
We at Sparkleverse are one such team. Having experimented with 9 online parties at scale during the lockdown within the CoReality Collective (the learnings from the first of which can be found here), we have a particular philosophy and perspective on the possibilities of experiential profundity that a mixture of active participation and the right kind of technology can accomplish. We believe the online Burn can be just as real as the physically colocated version. And we’re keen to facilitate anyone else who is ready to believe similarly in participating in and enjoying this years’ Burning Man.
To share our thinking, and perhaps to inspire participation, this is a sketch of our design thinking and approach for the online Burn. There are twelve core features we have implemented and which stand ready to go.
1.Simple, accessible web technology
Unlike the rest of life, Burning Man apsires to radical inclusion. Anyone and everyone is welcome. When on the Playa, nobody cares who you are in ‘default reality’. As an aside, this has a quite unexpected experiential status (freedom from status and prejudice, that only goes to reveal how regrettably potent and all-encompassingAnd while there are certain geographical, financial and logistical inconveniences associated with attending that mean that at the actual burn West-coast affluent Americans are rather too generously represented, the spirit of the place could hardly be more welcoming.
This is one of the aspects of the Burn, So in designing the Sparkleverse, we aimed for maximal accessibility (ubiquitous web-based technology) and the simplest possible ways to create in the space.
2. Potent tools for space creation
The astonishing and distinguishing feature of Black Rock City is that it is built each year by its participants from scratch in the salt-pan of a harsh and featureless desert. (The same is true of the real world, if only with a more historic time-scale). As one wanders around BM, it is this subtext- that everything you see, despite its ambition and magnificence, is built without supervision by the very participants among whom you are roving,- that lends every moment of lived existence therein a certain joyful inclusiveness: “we built this”. Rather than being a mere spectator, one has
It is this radical participation, entirely decentralised, entirely welcoming to all and every flavour of creative impulse, that is internal both to the magnificence of what results, and it to its felt significance. Because anyone who can build may do so, the results is the unihibited creative expression of the widest possible diversity of consciousnss, given the participants.
So we have created tools that allow anyone to open up a space.
3. An explorable Playa level
The Playa in physical Burning Man is an immense space seven miles wide, with a horseshoe of camps accounting for the city suburbs, and the wide open desert Playa the equivalent of the nearby countryside or park space. This fearsome desert space is the receptacle for all the fun that then takes place, once populated with all the art, camps, etc etc.
For online burn, we wanted to retain the iconic horse-shoe and overall layout, while adding a Sparkling diamond trashfence- a fence that encases the whole., which acts both as a border and as a trap for any wind-strewn matter-out-of-place (moop).
There will be two methods of navigating this Playa. The bird’s eye view mode, which will allow people to hover over it, clicking into whichever experiences they please. And True-Burner- mode, where you will be placed with video avatar and ambient audio on the Playa and pootle around at locomotory or bicycle speed – more of which later.
Because you live in the desert for a week at Burning Man, where and how you camp plays a key role in the constitution of your experience. Camp at the burn is mostly where you sleep, where you eat, where you build, where you host, and where you experience the most engaged community. It is the power of collaboration in camps that gives rise to some of the most delicious shared experiences, and camps are often the kernel of real-world communities who come back year after year.
For our digital camps, we allow people to add a second-layer map ‘beneath’ the Playa, which people can click through to from the Playa. On this second level map, Camp creators can then arrange a set of images that each lead when clicked upon to a . You can see how many people are within each of the rooms in a camp, and enter any of them by clicking.
People will be able to sleep in digital tents in their camps, and more generally camp will be a place to which digital burners retreat to chill with their friends before another sortie into the indeterminate adventures available on the broader Playa.
5. Art pieces
Alongside (and indeed within) camps on the Playa, Art pieces and performance venues are part of the necessary ornaments of the Playa.
When you encounter an art piece, you can click through to a special space featuring an embedded iFrame of any web experience, accompanied with video chat so you can talk with your fellow burners as you admire the art- the source of many a fine encounter at the actual burn. There will also be information about the art and a message board to leave thoughts and admiration.
So much of one’s experience at Burning Man is in encountering spaces constituted by their human presence: not just something. to view, but a social world to interact with. Unlike the contemporary web, these experiences are *hosted*- actively shaped live by the behaviour of their creators and participants.
Performance spaces in the Sparkleverse are mediated by Zoom rooms. Don’t worry, this most banal of business tools can be made to sing with the right technique (see the Sparkleversity, whose function is described below.) They will include anything and everything, from comedians, DJs, philosophical discussions, interactive mermaid shows, workshops in yoga/ mindfulness/star-gazing/origami and any of the other myriad things that imagination will bring forth.
7. Pleasurably inconvenient entry
One way of understanding Burning Man is as a sequence of experiences that gradually distance the participant from the preoccupations of their everyday life. Loss of contact with default reality is accomplished as much by the journey to, as the contents within, the burn. In this, the road trip out from, say, San Francisco or Mexico City, is a key part of the experience.
There will be two ways to onboard into the digital Playa. The first is excessively convenient: you just go in. Heroic mode, by contrast, will replicate to some small extent the experience of a roadtrip to the burn. You’ll be put in a car for an hour (we were talked out of 8 hours because it’s ‘not feasible’) with three other burners. You will then be in a time-locked capsule where the only thing to do is watch the cactuses going by and the diminishing count-down timer, and chat to the fellow occupants of your virtual vehicle.
Besides the company you keep it will be boring of course, but it won’t be boring of course because you will be gleefully making new friends, building anticipation and feeling the claws of everyday life gradually slipping away from your consciousness as the great wide-open reaches of its potentiality begin to open up.
8. Digital camping
During onboarding, everyone will have to make a choice about their specific bedding arrangements. A choice of RV, Hexayurt, Kodiak tent or standard tent: for all their creativity, burners have their preferred ways of living.
Your tent will then find a space in camp or on Playa. It will have space for up to four occupants. It will be lockable, so as to create space for intimate sharing and goodness. We recommend people sleep inside their tents with computer on- so they can be woken by friends who’ve come to find them to advise them of some exciting happening the missing of which sleep can be no excuse.
9. Serendipity on the Playa
While we will reluctantly permit a “bird’s eye view” mode in travelling the Playa, this has the limitation of lacking limitation. In the physically co-located Burn, when you encounter someone on the outer edges of the Playa, they haven’t just clicked to get there. You both won the right to a sense of joy at the mere fact of interacting with each other because by necessity you committed an hour of their life to cycling or wandering out there.
So heroic mode will see you constrained to human speed on the Playa, with a little video avatar, and ambient audio. What you give up in convenience you’ll more than make up for in the joys of encounter. Often it is during this journeying interspace that the most magic encounters happen.
10. Live schedule, with pot luck button
When I went to Burning Man for the second time, I was surprised and disappointed to realise that a schedule existed, which seemed to contrary to the spirit of anarchic discovery. Yet my prejudice has since mellowed: some burners embrace the schedule, informing themselves of magic happenings and zipping around the Playa to intercept them. So we provide easy access to a “what’s on now” and schedule to allow this technique to find effective expression.
While there is a schedule for burning man, the decentralised immensity of creativity often means that there is also call for a “pot luck” button, where you’re simply thrown into the next experience without any awareness of what it is. (See also ‘Dust storms’ below for another example of designed vulnerability to what happens next).
11. Digital costumes
It is a matter of great intrigue in human affairs, the power of the costume. The act of dressing up has tremendous effect on consciousness. Dressing up can reframe how we think, feel, act and perceive. Unlike a 3-D avatar, it also holds space for our face and eyes, for who we are. It is this mixture that makes augmented video, not 3-D avatars, the path to ‘virtual reality’.
And so goes that at parties, dressing up is an act of generosity both to self and to other. To the self, it garners freedom: it allows us greater motility in exploring fresh facets of our potentiality. When others see us in costume, they are likewise freed up from the preconscious prejudices and habits that suck the potential from most everyday interactions. So costume is a vastly important piece of. This is best done by physically dressing up, but even then there is an important role to be played by digital costume.
This is where Snap filters come in (and to a more banal extent, zoom backgrounds). We have SNAP to thank for arguably the most joyful approach to technology in the contemporary tech-o-sphere. I for one thought that when they IPO-ed claiming to be “camera company” that we were being treated to vacuous salesmanship, but I was wrong: snap filters are the source of digital costumes of the very best quality. And with Snap Studio 3, we are.
So we’ll be creating lotsof costumes for this digital world, and we encourage you to do so too. There’ll also be digital costume making workshops in the digital realm.
12. Mixed reality spaces
A little analysis reveals that the fundament of conscious experience- the human body- is just as real in the event of an online Burn as it would be at a Burn on the Playa. It’s just that the bodies are spatially separated (even if they remain temporally unified).
Nonetheless, leveraging the immediate physical world is an important aspect of the Sparkleverse product at its best. So we are encouraging performers and artists to have their co-participants leverage their immediate environments a bit like physical costumes to help amplify their sense of immersion.
At CoReality parties we have had great success with mixed reality hot tubs for example, where everyone runs and enters their baths while placing their device on a well positioned nearby chair so they can have the sensory experience of sharing a hot tub at a distance.
Burning man is created by its participants, and since this is the first time it has been attempted online, there is call for a resource of shared materials to educate, inspire and animate the sense of capability and participation of those who fancy taking part.
For the most part, Burners have the impression that they are heroes. This impression is accurate. The mere fact of survival on the Playa, a desert lacking any native resources for survival such as water and with brutal temperatures (both hot and not at all), excites people to embrace quite unusual levels of physical exertion. One experiences hunger, thirst and tiredness in new and powerful ways that collectively animate the body, in turn leading to an amplified capacity for pleasure and perception.
For the post part, this element of proceedings will require mixed reality participation (cutting off water supply in your flat, participating for long periods of time, eating only when back in camp), but we help this along on the product side by letting participants know when they’ve done noteworthy things such as each milestone of 12 hours spent on Playa. Serious burners will do the whole 192 hours.
By making these achievements public on their profile, alongside the list of all camps visited, the infectious heroism of others may inspire all burners to new heights of participation (as well as providing a new vector of discovery).
15. Burning Man Information Radio
To those who Burn each year, Burning Man Information Radio provides a joyful accompaniment to the adventures around the Playa. Listening to this very diverse and amusing station gives a sense of presence and community across the immense distant reaches of the Black Rock party universe, amounting to a form of ambient emotional perception, which one often pipes into the brain while manoeuvring around the hot sands.
So we’ll be providing access to this marvellous radio station from our top-bar where the whimsy and magic of what’s going on not just in the Sparkleverse but across the Multiverse can provide a sustaining accompaniment.
16. Dust storms
In much of human life, we have the illusion of mastery. But in fact, our being and our consciousness are the emergent property of our interaction with the environment: we are vulnerable to the world, it pipes into us and constitutes us.
At Burning Man, an important feature of the overall experience is the occasional and unheralded dust storms that obliterate all visibility and hound the skin with a rough sandy pasting. When such “white outs” strike, the burner scrambles desperately for the nearest hiding place. This is a great source of positive ‘noise’ in one’s path through the Playa, as the scramble to the nearest place and the sense of being safely enshrouded often gives rise to rich and unexpected moments of connection.
Thus, at random, a digital sand storm will power across the Playa rendering useless all navigational devices / schedules etc. You will have one option and one option only: to head to the nearest space and hang out there for the duration of the sand storm. A wonderful chance to meet interesting people.
There is no money at burning man, and the power of this absence is difficult fully to appreciate until experienced. It takes a day or three fully to adapt to interactions with other people entirely unmediated by commercial interests. One just receives and gives, without expectation that one such act should beckon another.
In the Sparkleverse, it will be possible to send digital gifts to other burners via their profiles.
18. Portals to other universes
From a first person point of view, Burning Man is staggeringly scale-agnostic. That is, as you manifest your personal journey your consciousness will be occupied entirely at one point by the smallest thing -a tiny gift for example- and the next point by the largest – an immense art car, or the the burning of a vast 100m high Man. And the one is equal to the other.
In this way, the experiential tapestry of the whole is fractal: you pass through one experience into the next and it always feels like a continuous progress forward regardless of what it is that currently colonises your mind.
The Sparkleverse is only one of several universes that together make up the multiverse. And we want to encourage people to flow as freely as possible through the tapestry of the mulitverse. For this reason, prominently on our Playa there will be portals. to other universes through which one can pass back and forth in unfolding the grand extravagance of digital inventiveness being manifested across this seminal happening.
19. The burning of the man
It would be remiss to reveal how we have imagined the centrepiece, the epic coming together that acts as the conjoining mnemonic and experoential landmark of each burn, a . of the whole. But imagine it we have, and we can’t wait for you to experience it first hand.
How to get involved
Build week is just beginning at this moment (August 23rd, 2020). There is plenty of time to get involved. We welcome you to add whatever you wish to add to the Sparkleverse. This will with luck be a seminal online happening, bringing together people from around the world in an act of co-participation and joy that can energise. To go ahead and create something, go here. To educate yourself about how to go about doing that, you can sign up for a webinar here.
The Burn itself is August 30th-September 6th. You can get tickets here. They are donation-based, and on sale now.
If you have any questions, please check out our FAQ or be in touch here.
Parties are at the heart of most of what is good in human life: love, friendship, transcendence, escape, spiritual exploration, fun, desire, music, dance, open-mindedness.
It’s obviously therefore of great importance that we continue partying despite physical distancing. But how to host decent parties online?
First-rate theoretical analysis has revealed that there are ten universal features to an epic party, that will require capturing in any online space:
A theme or focus
A narrative through time
Many different spaces
Performances and entertainment
Parties, in this model, are multi-players journeys through time-spaces of fun, that help their participants reach otherwise unattainable vistas of love, connection, joy etc. Given this, it seems conceptually certain that there are no barriers to having parties online: parties are already collective acts of imagination.
With some friends in the Co-reality Collective, we recently put to the test whether it is indeed possible to satisfy all of these needs in an online party. What follows is an account of the design features and technical solutions we implemented to solve for that.
We found not only that it is possible to have online parties that are as phenomenologically real as normal parties, but that some aspects of parties can actually be improved. Truly, online parties can be banging.
So that you can understand how to create your own epic online party, this post will take you through the four phases of the party we threw last weekend; we’ll then review learnings and present some reasons to believe that online parties may bring forth a new renaissance on party possibility.
Finally, you’ll be able to sign up to help co-create or attend our next party, which will be happening on Saturday April 18th 2020, when we’ll be taking the architecture of online party time-space to the next level.
The Zone Party – design and execution
In accordance with a deep appreciation of the ten fundamental ingredients of great parties listed above, we took the time to design a party in four acts, for a fulsome spacetime experience capable of bringing people into new qualities of interconnection. Here’s how it worked:
Act 1: Invitations and Party Build Up
The trajectory of your consciousness in relation to a party begins the first time you hear about it. This ‘historicity’ of perception is something that Steve Jobs understood very well: your experience of the iPhone in your hand implicitly includes your first visit to the Apple Store, the aesthetics of opening the packaging, that flawless first boot up. We experience everything now as connected to the story that brought us here.
So it is for parties: someone’s experience in the hot-tub at 3 a.m. bears the imprint of their first encounter with the party invitation, their wait in the queue, their first welcome. All of these moments are parts of a journey that collectively transports a consciousness to a new place. So it’s critical in designing online parties to think holistically and narratively.
a) The party invitation
First impressions are key, design your party accordingly!
At the most basic level, produce an invitation. Prime the narrative. Ensure that the practical act of invitees inviting further people is attended to. Establish why your party is worth attending. We’ll see again and again that the level of party-goer commitment is constitutive of the quality of the party: you need to build commitment from the outset.
Since in our case we knew that due to philosophical confusion people tend to dismiss online parties as unreal, and online parties tend not to be parties at all but at best fragments of parties, we chose to theme three things heavily with our first invitation, in order to begin to structure party-goer expectation in profitable fashion:
That this party was real
That this party was a magical connection of multiple spaces together
That a mysterious quest was involved
Specifically, we invoked the philosophical question of what is real in human experience and desire, by invoking Tarkovsky’s stalker: a twighlit film where a bunch of men go in search of ‘The Zone’, a place where their deepest desires will come true.
But in the film, they’re not quite sure whether they actually want to get to The Zone, what their deepest desires are, and whether they really want them to come true. A bit like us with online parties.
The graphics -kindly knocked out for free by Eszter Balogh in an hour- encouraged people to recognise that this wouldn’t be everyone stuck in the box of a single video call, but an autonomous adventure through a dynamic party space.
Because the party was happening online, we embraced an international crowd across five timezones, and timed the party for 8 p./m- 4 a.m. UK time, which is noon-8p.m. Californian time.
We also made the invite-only so as to encourage a sense of scarcity, and to be able to exert some constraints on the style of people, in order to ensure that we could design the party for the needs and preferences of a specific audience.
c) Further follow-up materials: the map, ticket purchase
The next day, to ensure that people didn’t mistake this party for a “virtual” one, it was important to communicate, and generate excitement for, the amount of effort going into the invention of the party. So we circulated a map of the party so people could pre-imagine a little what would be taking place.
This was Gaia’s sketch of the rooms through time. The party begins roughly at the bottom left of the picture at 8 p.m, passes through the Cabaret in the middle at midnight and ended at the top at 4 a.m. It also served as a mental model for time (for hosts and participants) and re-emphasised the notion that a chaotic sprawl of rooms would be the order of the day.
This visual graphic would be constitutive of people’s experience throughout the party, even if it bore only a metaphoric relationship.
It helped people build anticipation, make plans and prepare costumes. It helped frame in their minds that this would be an adventure worth preparing for. And it showed that there’d be somewhere fun for everyone.
We also made people ‘purchase’ tickets (for free) via Eventbrite, and gave them the opportunity while doing so to donate to the artists. Again, all good hoops to jump through to ensure the right attitude on entry.
d) Further preparation tips
Since it was the first online party for most invitees, guidelines were key. It was important to build people’s mentality for the shared fiction, and encourage them to conceive of their own participation as contributory towards their experience at the party.
Fortunately, we had a lot of Californians coming, whose experience of attending Burning Man each year means they understand in their bones that the essential experience of parties is one of participation, not consumption.
So we did various further things to help people prepare, relating to the fundamentals of costumes and mind-altering liquids.
For costumes, top rec was to actually prepare multiple outfits. Partying from home can turn us all into Madonnas.
Second-best (and additive) costime move was to install Snap Camera. Snap camera is an astonishingly fun AR filter of the kind young people have been enjoying as a fundamental part of their social lives for the last five years, but which my generation found fundamentally mysterious. It gives anyone fancy-dress super-powers.
For shared psychoactive substances, we advised people that it was BYOB and they need Prosecco for the reception, and spirits for the second half the party.
We also encouraged participants to prepare mixed-reality spaces. We wanted people to pre-prepare Zoom backgrounds, so that collectively there’d be a feeling of being in the same space.
But taking this a step back, in fact, we’d later insist Later, in the hot-tub, admission was not permitted unless people were actually in their baths at home. The important way that proximal physical space can be used to drive the experience of virtual space is a fun topic for going deeper on later.
Along with further banter on the Facebook page, and hosts currying excitement, this got us to 250 excited people signed up for the party in the 48 hours between first coming up with the idea and the party beginning.
Act 2: Entry and party introduction
a) Queuing for entry
We released the singular link to where the party would begin an hour before the event began. It took partygoers directly to the queue.
The queue was an open Zoom room hosted by Maz and Frederick; operating in character as two bouncers with a high threshold of party-goer quality, they ensured that no half-hearted tourists would wind up lowering the party-bar. This is Frederick at the door. Note the virtual background.
The bouncers naturally took their time over each admission, vetting prospective party-goers at length for the quality of their costumes, snap filters, zoom backgrounds.
The resulting length of the queue naturally provoked some dissatisfaction, including numerous complaints on the Facebook page. But these rumblings of discontent only served to advertise the reality and value of the party and heightened the pleasure people were later able to experience once they were finally inside.
An interesting point to note here is that one of the bouncers (Fred) was in Malmo, Sweden; the other, Maz, was at her home in LA. Yet they were able to operate as a flawless duo.
The upshot of all this was that anyone entering the party itself was committed. They’d got their ticket, they’d prepared their fancy dress, they’d queued, they’d built up some anticipation. And through doing all these things, they had cleansed themselves of the joylessness that can hobble every untreated adult human, and for which there can be no place at an actual party of quality.
b). Grand reception hall
I’m generally not a fan of themed passwords, having spent so many afternoons sitting in the waiting-rooms of vapid Silicon Valley VCs having to type things like “99%perspiration” or “failfast” to get onto the wifi, but nonetheless we decided to make the passport to all Zoom rooms “thisisreal” to continuously prime the attitude of participants.
Memory and perception are flip sides of the same coin: the quality of a party as you experience it depends on how well you’ll be able to remember it. Hence why memory-palace-techniques are key to good party-design: a journey through many distinctive spaces helps create more opportunity for distinctive memories, which is precisely the same as creating more opportunities for distinctive experience. So from the point of entry into the party, we ensured party-cipants could radiate out into a rich variety of spaces.
This memory/perception link also shows up in via primacy and recency effects. How something begins and how something ends, are constitutive of how it is experienced.
So a warm welcome is key. If someone is kind enough to come to your party, they need to be welcomed accordingly. It’s critical to greet guests with Greet with Prosecco, to make them feel valued and to encourade them to relax into the party by making some introductions.
Here we used Zoom’s breakout room functionality to establish little conversational pockets for people to connect in smaller groups.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Zoom is that individual people don’t have agency over whom they talk to, which is a shame and unlike real parties where one is in a constant game of judging whether one is going to refresh from this part of the conversation and find someone sexier or more fun to talk to.
Nonetheless, break out offer a decent way out, and we took the time to prepare rooms in advance to keep the sense of space. So we had mini-spaces “strategically poised by the canapés” and “by the windows” etc to sustain the fiction.
Up and until this point, the journey had been a structured, linear process
Now we began from this entrance hall to open up rooms for free. We did so by annoucning the opening of rooms in the Zoom chats. “Toilets are now open here if you need them”. “Kitchen now open here” / “Golden gate dancefloor just sparked up with some beautiful Californian funk”. This was our Zoom equivalent of the natural social revelation of party space at typical IRL event.
And so the party gradually became a dynamic flow of people between spaces of fun.
c) Further rooms opened up in the first inflorescence of partying
Toilets and liminal spaces like smoking areas play a crucial role at all parties, as neutral zones with no background music or strong demands on expected party behaviour. They are therefore mini-worlds where people can chat with each other unsupervised, back-channel and gossip and understand what is going on, and do things like make out or take illegal drugs (which we do not endorse).
Experientially, they are in some sense places where people can come up for air, or free zones- where the rules of the rest of the party no longer apply, where you can enjoy some privacy, shelter from the madness.
The toilet was the first room we opened up, and it proved popular. Among the feedback, we were pleased to see this come through [the party contained]…
“That familiar FOMO you get at parties when you realise you’ve been chatting in the toilets for 2 hrs and everyone else might be having a better time, or might have just left”
We’d later find out that the Toilet space wasn’t appreciated by everyone, but for some it was fundamental. Much like toilets at real parties.
This process wasn’t 100% smooth. When the toilet was first opened up, a partygoer called Alexander brightly volunteered to check it out. “I’ll be right back” he said, perhaps tempting fate.
As it turned out he reappeared an hour and a half later back in the Grand Reception explaining that he’d forgotten to store the link back, and so he’d not been able to find his way back from the empty toilet and had to queue again from scratch, poor lamb. So from that point on we encouraged people to store any rooms they had visited for easy access later on their computers by copying the zoom addresses.
And after more time, we simply released a Google Doc of all the rooms that had been revealed so far, with links and descriptions. A rudimentary map.
Another room we opened up early was the Kitchens. These tend to be the epicentre of houseparties, lying in tactically advantageous positions on the trade-routes to the alcohol and the snacks.
In our case, the kitchen was a crazy disco
The (Golden-gate) dancefloor
A key practical feature of the dancefloors was the use of Twitch streams. for superior audio quality. For background music, one can share audio directly through another’s computer (this works ok for background music) by going to “share screen”, clicking the “share audio” box, moving to “advanced” and saying just share computer audio.
The Rumpus Room
The Rumpus room was an object lesson in how to handle space in an interactive games room. Run by Iona, master space-holder and party gal, it was mad
It’s a very energetically managed play-space of games of connection. making skillful use of breakout rooms, spotlight functionality (so you can show a particular good dancer to everyone) and so on.
Iona has been on BBC news with her Madonna dance shows. When I get the video for this, I’ll embed it here.
Act 3: Midnight ritual
As we’ve examined, it is key that the party has some communal narrative and collective sense of spatiotemporal development. For this reason, we brought the whole party together into one room at its exact middle-point. Till then, the fun had been in discovering all the different corners of the party, dancing etc. Now, the community of the party came together. The management of this was quite well done, and bears examination.
a) Building up a space of connection and performance
The midnight ritual began was prefigured by a fairly outstanding strip-tease conducted in the cabaret room as people began to gather. This evoked some desire and emotion in those who witnessed it and created an aura of performance on which to build. A visceral experience of desire can help bring people into
b) Closure of all other spaces
Meanwhile, in exact synchrony the hosts of all the rooms kicked everyone out and sent everyone to the Cabaret for the single, uniting group experience. Gradually the spaced filled up, hundreds of faces ready for the big event. The sense of coming together, or ritual and significance was palpable.
c) Midnight ritual
Then came the midnight ritual, which was where the implicit theme of the party -social connection and international solidarity in the face of physical distancing- was expressed.
Gaia Harvey Jackson who ran it is an experienced conductor of such experiential rituals, and brought considerable expertise to bear in seemingly effortless fashion
First, there was a moment of pause, contemplation, collective breathing and sighs.
Then, as everyone came together, Gaia called for anyone directly affected by COVID to raise their hands to the screen, making visible who’d been directly personally affected. There must have been 20 people across the group whose hands went up, people who’d lost relatives, or whose partners were in hospital, or who were working in ICUs.
It was a very striking moment amid all the fun and silliness to have the reality of the pandemic made personal and visible.
Then Gaia bade everyone put their hands up in solidarity.
This is a photo of Gaia at that point in time from the side: it looks unremarkable, but to experience the connection with people around the world, directly affected, to be able to communicate in solidarity, moved many tears.
d) Sharing circle
At this point, people stepped forward and shared feelings and experiences. A nurse in West Virginia working 18 hours shifts in an ICU. People with tales of loneliness and abandonment, fear and shame.
e) Dance off to Bohemian Rahpsody
After all this, there was nothing for it but for some embodioed movement all together, the finest way to bring people together.
” my hairs were standing on end and I felt electricity in my body when we all put our hands up together. It was important to have us all come together at this moment and have a ritual, amongst the general partying and chatting other times. Followed by Bohemian Rhapsody – perfection.”
“I thought it was wonderful!! It was really really touching to put our hands to the screen, and to talk about how this was “real”. I actually shed a tear at that point. The continual repetition of “this is real” was important – it is real. It is sad this is all the connection we will have for months, but you made it *real*, it’s true.”
f) Exchange of performances from within the group
Performances are one of the fundamentals of great parties; and they’re at their most powerful when party-participants are the performers, showing themselves in vulnerability and witnessing each other in their unique being.
So at this point, Gaia invited anyone who wished to express themselves to step forward. Poems, songs, dances, expressions of thought all poured further, in a generous, warm, supportive space.
It was deeply moving: poems and songs people had written, dances they wished to share. This space of connection and vulnerability was for many the peak of the party.
Act 4: The post-midnight frenzy
The experience of having gone through to a place of deep emotional communication can give rise to a new energy, a new appetite for mayhem. Recall that we’d closed all the rooms down to create the space for this one, and so as the crowds dispersed back to the party, hosts fired back up new rooms, and the music got darker, louder.
I must confess that it was at this point that the overall operational cogency of the party began to creak. Somebody forgot to reopen the toilets; rooms were abandoned. Hosts changed. When at 3 in the morning it occurred to me to check the grand reception, I found a journalist inside who’d been patiently waiting
a) Reopening rooms for a second phase.
Return of the kitchen, Rumpus room, Golden Gate dancefloor. But this time with new moods, new dynamics.
b) The goddess yurt
Parties require all manner of space to house different kinds of vibe. Goddess yurt was one such space that opened up around this time for deep conversation, Tarot readings, peace and quiet.
c) The realm of divine beings
This whacky space was almost perfect, but never quite made it into existence due to technical glitches. But rumour of it, of its divinity, of the amazing music and reiki healings, was enough to add some magic to the winds of possibility blowing through party-goers’ minds.
There is a phase towards the end of any sprawling party where a second wind comes about. Normally a few gate-crashers have shown up with extra alcohol, as happened here. People are inebriated, they’re elated, they’ve made friends and connections and this is the phase where the most meaningful unexpected experiences tend to emerge: moments of romantic connection, vulnerability, intellectual epiphany and so on.
It was as our party had begun to enter this zone, that rumour of the existence of the hot tub began to materialise
d) The hottub
Throughout the party, there had been significant speculation that the hot tub, if and when it opened, might in fact be The Zone.
This is just the kind of credible rumour, a phantom paradigm, that helps to enliven the horizon of what might happen next at any party. Party-goers after all always exist in a productively indeterminate relationship to the future. They’re never quite certain, what is true, what might happen next? It turned out that, at least the existence of the hot tub was true.
Here, the fact that the password for this room was different to others added credence to the claim. The fact that for a period of two hours, it wasn’t possible to have a conversation with someone in another room without rumours of the hot-tubs existence or contents arising added further vital allure.
I’m not a massive fan of hot tubs in real life, but the feeling of joy when I finally found my way into this one was astounding. And because in order to gain access I had to run a bath, get into it, and arrange my laptop on a chair, the sense of actually being in a hot-tub was real.
In order to maintain the sanctity of the space, people were only allowed in if they participated properly, and a lovely hot0tub esque atnosphere duly emerged.
I felt that the hot tub experience was a fucking joy to participate in. Never saw an explicit sign saying it was the zone, so who knows, but a safe, sensual, Intimate place to see and be seen and share the joys of serendipitous loving play was powerful medicine that I am grateful to have been part of.
“I made it to the hottub! Glorious and delightful”
Hot Tub. Activated my divine female <3
Hot tub participants
e) The Zone itself
The zone had been advertised as the principal goal of the party, and the quest to discover this realm of deep reality as the organising principle of party-engagement.
It was, according to the invitation, “the realest place in the lockdown, the place your deepest desires come true”. Naturally, given what was stated on the packet, party-goers sought the Zone right to the end of the party. To ask whether it existed would show a lack of imagination, a certain metaphysical conservatism, that wouldn’t do at all. So everyone embraced a cheerful hope that perhaps the Zone did exist as a room or emotion or possibility. And, in the way of these things, many were thus able to find it:
I found a Zone I liked in the Goddess Yurt The Zone is in us all, always! Xx
My deepest desires did not come true. But some of my desires did come true including having authentic vulnerable connections with people, having fun, dancing, watching a super sexy strip show, hosting something edgy, and going with the flow. And I met a sexy being who we had a nice FaceTime date with the next day so that was an unexpected bonus. 🙂
Wow, what a party!! Epic!! My favorite was the Zone. I didn’t know if it really existed but once I got there… whoa!!!!
I did. It was inside me.
Party-cipants who experienced the zone
A few autobiographical notes:
To get the feel of this last phase of the closing phases of the party, it’s worth mentioning a few anecdotes from my own experience, which capture how well the “virtual” experience gave rise to immersive party-like experiences.
One thing was that I kept on bumping into the same guy, Max, across multiple rooms. First in the hot-tub, then in the Rumpus Room, then on the Golden Gate dancefloor. We got to know each other, made friends, struck by the coincidence of how we kept on popping up in front of each other. Delightful serendipity!
Second, I bumped into one of my best friends Dan eight hours after last having seen him at the beginning of the party, snorkelling away (snap filter) in the Rumpus Room in the middle of some mischief or other… “Oh my god, you’re still here! Where’ve you been?” I stuck around for a catch-up.
Finally, I wound up, as sometimes happened in the parties of my youth, in a charged deep and meaningful with a symmetrical lady in the hot-tub for the last hour of the party. I’d popped in before heading home to bed to see if anything was going on and say my goodbyes, and soon finding myself as one of just he two occupants, felt it would be impolite to leave. Intimate heart-to-heart vibes sprung forth, and we talked till dawn.
My flat afterwards looked like I’d had actually hosted a party, including the extinguished remnants of an actual fire in the kitchen and bottles of wine sprawled everywhere. It was an interesting physical testimonial to the passion and energy of the party.
2. Assessment and learnings
Our first intention with this party was to achieve a level of “reality” equal to a normal party. In this, we were successful: of 25 responders to our post-party survey, reality was deemed 100% by 16. The person who responded 1/10 was taking their revenge, as they’d been turned away at the door for lacking a decent costume.
In qualitative feedback, we got a better sense of *why* the party was experienced as so real:
“How do I know for myself this party was real? Because everyone I met there was real — I could really feel your presence even across our physical distance. I know too because the experience challenged me sometimes to be more real, which only happens when I feel myself being seen. And because the next day I woke up with that precious afterglow that follows all the best parties, remembering snippets of conversation, emotions and ideas and perspectives taking root inside of me.This was not just a virtual ‘internet’ experience any more than a bus ride or a laundromat visit when shared with friends is ever just a ‘train’ or a ‘laundromat’ experience. The backgrounds change, but it’s the people in the foreground that see us through our lives. We are real for each other. And I know that this matters to me, because the whole night/day experience had me captivated for five hours, even after I’d just that day driven 700kms straight before arriving at our new house to discover that our digital key cards did not work (now solved, thankfully). Even though I was tired and wired, and in this state would never have sought out mere entertainment, I simply could not miss this moment of reality, because PARTIES ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE.”
The experience was real. I was at a party and it was exciting and novel. Listening to poetry in the cabaret was a highlight and meeting people in break out rooms in the grand hall. I would consider going back for more experiences of that nature with more in depth conversations. I naturally got caught up in the dance halls.
Here’s what people loved:
Loved the breakout rooms where you put with strangers for a random amount of time, loved dancing with people around the world, loved the shows/performances. Sounds quality was much better than I was expecting
I liked that people joined from all over the world!
The participation of all the beautiful partygoers! The deep thought and intention put into party planning and execution by the hosts <3
spicy crowd. The themed rooms were soft suggestions so I felt comfortable saying no and yes. I loved the open and spontaneous nature of conversations and activities. I loved being able to cook a pizza and drink truly’s from the comfort of my rolly chair! Thanks ya’ll the event was absolutely magical and so crucial for us social creatures! Thank youuu!!
Changes from dance to real talk . Non judgment . gender equal.
Meeting and connecting with other people who are as delightfully weird as I am through the magic of creativity, intention, and a splash of technology.
The people. The cameraderie. The sense of exploration.
Of having no free-will in being sent to a room
The chance to loop into any room and leave, come and go as you please. Going on a hunt for the best thing… see what you find… an exploration. Like jumping from tent to tent at a festival sniffing out the good tunes and the fab people.
Finding the secret rooms and chasing down your friends around the experience
everyone’s committment to the party!
The amount of anticipation
Meeting people from around the world.
The sense of humour and the playfulness, and the warmth that every single human there brought to it. So warm. Also people were really good at letting each other speak one person at a time – I was at another party Friday, and everyone was talking over each other, it was impossible to understand anyone. Really good etiquette and chemistry in this one.
The toilet conversations. Having opportunity to bounce to different spaces. Feeling overwhelmed just as if I was in a party.
Loved the breakout rooms where you put with strangers for a random amount of time, loved dancing with people around the world, loved the shows/performances. Sounds quality was much better than I was expecting
Being at the party. the novelty of it, the creativity, the fun, the people. I can’t pick just one!! 😉
genuine impromptu conversation
It had a pioneering spirit about it. I loved people’s costumes, there was someone who was a worm floating in a yellow screen. It was silly, and warm and everyone was excited to connect and to explore. It had a feeling of festivity and curiosity.
The People who participated in it. The sense of connection
Loved the multi national aspect
all the things that were out of your control added to the feeling of a social event that you can’t control, like a party. like the queue and then being paired off into break out rooms, that was good at the beginning. If a bit awkward at times. It was easier when you had a question to discuss – helped to break the ice with total strangers. It was free if you wanted it to be. (much easier to register free than to pay – i was going to pay, but then there was a whole signup/ put your card details in thing and I quit and just got the ticket for free). You could go without leaving your own home. Bar was supermarket prices. Met some cool people. could change disguises. Felt there was stuff going on. That familiar FOMO you get at parties when you realise you’ve been chatting in the toilets for 2 hrs and everyone else might be having a better time, or might have just left.
The hot tub and the dance floor, also the people ! 🙂
Here’s where things can be improved:
I joined very late, but wished I could understand the intentions behind each room before entering. Also, I wasn’t sure how to find the other rooms and ended up having to flat-out ask for someone to share links.
I liked the dancefloor breakout room idea, to connect deeper with someone who’s eye you might catch on the dancefloor.
Hmmmm… I had a really great time, so I just want to encourage creativity!
Group games to foster connections. I know there was the Rumpus Room but I didn’t make it there this time around.
Self-views should be turned off except in the toilet, like a real party — that’s where the mirrors are. Dancefloor time should include breakouts for random, curated, or self-selected small group boogies. People motionless on dancefloor for more than a minute should be transported to the bar to refuel their spirits (at the bar the music from the dancefloor can still be heard, but the quality is poor, much like zoom audio.
Lesser queuing time
a live map with links of rooms and experiences opening up
I wish all the rooms were accessible. Also, I was in the Cabaret room for the ritual at midnight by accident and now a bit worried I could have missed it.
The idea that the queue would only accept one person at the time was a bad Idea, should have had a waiting room with break out sessions to check if they where ready
Being able to stay in the rooms without being kicked out then loosing connection (system issue)
I’d like it not to be so hard to get the codes for new rooms. I understand you want to create an element of play, and make it a little bit like a video game with a bit of a challenging component so there’s a sense of reward when you get to a new room, but it does make it feel a little bit “in crowd out crowd”, “too cool for school”, when you want to get somewhere and you can’t. At 2am in London there was a few places I wanted to visit but couldn’t get the codes from anyone, and couldn’t be arsed to stay up two more hours with no new places to visit.
No waiting rooms. Also the toilet didn’t open back up after the midnight session.
The initial queue was long but it bumped up the anticipation and gave time for pre-drinking. Maybe clearer signing of where I could see what art/performances when?
How can we send everyone a party bag beforehand?
Maybe have it be more clear ahead of time what the vibe would be in each room. But overall, it was awesome!!!
more clarity around timing…?
List the rooms and zooms. Having to reconnect to each room and copy a url is annoying
I need to work out how to use Zoom and probably get a new laptop. Although I liked the feeling of confusion. I’d like to encounter more stalwarts like the bouncers, it had a computer gameishness to it about finding the magical digital world where someone’s doing A Thing and you get to be part of it for a while and then flit away.
I don’t really think improvement’s required. It was a wonderful, organic experience, that’ll be equally so at ZONE2.. Can’t wait until we party again.
maybe actually insist on the prosecco reception – I had mine ready but didn’t feel like having it on my own – prosecco is such a group experience.. It was interesting to have a quest to find links to rooms via various room, and as a dedicated person I did gather about 8 of those, but after midnight there was no access to the grand reception, the toilet or kitchen disco, those rooms died.. Maybe worth not having a host there or have an auto/robot host that will let everyone in automatically? The body paint wasn’t a body paint, but the normal paint, which was a bit disappointing :))
A quick note on economics:
A final note is that we took £700 (c. $1000) of donations for the newly income-stream deprived artists. Which was pretty good!
5. Plans for future parties
Conducting this party has shown us that it is perfectly possible to have truly banging parties online, parties of complete reality, parties that are wild, where people connect, flirt, make friends, achieve transient trascendence and so on.
This should come as no surprise since parties were always forms of multi-player imagination, the invention of new spaces of reality to come together and connect within.
As ever in life, the quality of the experience comes from the people and their commitment as participants. As engines of consciousness, parties need to be carefully curated to bring marvelous people in a spirit of openness and participation into shared experiential journeys. So the principles are much the same as they would be for any party, as described in a previous post.
A few notes on how we’ll deploy these learnings next time:
a) The importance of active design of the time-space of the party
People loved the journey to the party, the queueing, the hoops to jump through. The hero’s journey of a party is constitutive of the final experience, and has to be carefully preserved.
The gradual revelation of new spaces, the rhythm of the party, the energy and mystery and FOMO of what might be happening elsewhere were all key. A reminder that parties are made up of time and space and people, and that one needs to combine them carefully into extravagant journeys.
I loved the que, door person, multiple rooms of empty and full. I loved the maze of getting into different rooms, the cabaret shifting to the hot tub was an unexpected suprise. I enjoyed listening to my internal narrative at the party, apparently I decide whether or not I feel bored within seconds of talking to someone 🤯
c) Improvements to dance floors
The dancefloors were some of our highest rated rooms, and undoubtedly the engage sensorimotor activity of dancing brings people closer than mere visual presence.
A couple of tweaks to the timespace were called for however:
Break out rooms on dancefloors- for seductive exchange.
No selfie cam- let’s focus on others
d) Improvements to overall party navigation
There were some clear things people asked for that can be improved for next time. We made errors in putting waiting rooms on meetings and we made it unnecessarily difficult to navigate between the rooms. To increase the phenomenological realism of exploration, we want to find a way next time to give a visual “preview” of rooms before entering so someone can get a sense
All of this goes hand in hand with slightly more rigorous party organisation.
e) Rocksolid background organization
We did in fact have a fairly bureaucratic gant chart to help manage the rooms, voila:
However, it took a lot of proactive improvised behind-the-scenes management from a spontaneously appointed chief operating officer to mange things. And various mistakes were made with Zoom room configuration, leading to, for example, people being stuck in unnecessary waiting rooms.
Robust rotas are key: the toilets closing prematurely upset someone who was trying to score illegal drugs there, presumably, in the early hours; and our DJ on the Golden Gate Dancefloor had to maintain the space solo for nine hours straight, and was thus not being able to see any of the rest of the party.
So from an organisational point of view, very clear room management rotas, Zoom settings, and clear operational live management of the party are all important.
f) Democratisation of the epic
What is so exciting about the time-space of online parties, is how unlimited they are in possibility and scope. Since a party of a thousand rooms is eminently possible, it’s just a matter of coordinating the time-space effectively, and ensuring that everything plays into a cogent theme, with a cogent narrative.
Online parties represent, at some level, the possibility of the great democratisation of the ability to make incredible parties. This all, of course, has dystopian possibilities, but in online space we’re unlimited in the magnificence of the buildings and costumes that we can conjure, so
g) Taking mixed reality to the next level
An interesting discovery at this party was the great importance of mixed reality.
Aligning partygoers with the same theme, alcohol, prepared spaces etc., is a clear area of opportunity. When we were all drinking prosecco together, or all rocking out in our kitchens, or all in our bathtubs in the hot water, the sense of connection and reality only surged.
Next time, it’ll be tempting to prescribe party packs and more elaborate instructions so people can in their own homes, create shared mixed reality spaces that
The next party
At the Co-reality collective, we believe that parties are the ultimate art-form, and the supreme arena for human self-expression, and it is our conviction that online parties can open up new horizons of excellence in party design.
So we’re excited to be doing another online party on Saturday April 18th, next weekend.
Parties are the highest form of human art and the purest arena for self-expression.
For millennia, festivals, booze-ups, house parties, birthdays, feasts, lock-ins, weddings, wakes, raves, dances, and religious rituals of all different shapes and sizes have been the pre-eminent conduits in people’s lives for love, transcendence, friendship, intellectual progress, and spiritual celebration.
Parties structure our sense of autobiographical time, define our kinships, and create the opportunity for us to expand our consciousness beyond the banal strictures of the everyday. They can, as a consequence, claim credit for a startling percentage of the total meaning and joy ever experienced by human beings.
But what is it that makes the party such a potent tool for meaning, joy and human connection?
Embarrassingly for our civilization, parties have hitherto gone almost entirely unstudied- if research budgets are any indication, we value the understanding of sub-atomic particles millions of times more than of our own consciousnesses. But this epic cultural fail should not tempt us to underestimate how well we can understand parties, nor indeed their importance.
In my posthumous work, a General Theory of Parties, I’ll go into all of this in much more detail, but I thought it might be worth sharing an overview of how parties function now, and a sketch of an analysis
What makes a good party?
One simple way to approach the question of what makes a great party is to make a list of the greatest party moments of one’s life, and then to inspect each for what took place in the surrounding party-context to set up that sublime party-moment.
I actually recommend you do this before reading further. List three truly great parties and try to work out what it was that made them so damn good. It’s not difficult to come up this way with a list of universal party ingredients.
When I conduct this reflection on the greatest party experiences I’ve enjoyed, which of course dominate the list of the happiest and most profound moments of my life, what’s so striking is that the same ingredients co-occur even across wildly different parties.
Parties with very different scales, different purposes, different kinds of people, music, patterns of mind-alteration have similar categorical ingredients.
Specifically, the four best parties I have ever experienced (outside of Burning man, a category of its own) were:
A spontaneous house party for ten in Paris in 2005 (10-ish people)
My parents 40th wedding anniversary (120-ish people)
My best mate Al’s stagnight (2016, 20 people)
The Oregon Eclipse (5000 people)
The ten universal ingredients of great parties
1. A theme or focus
Every great party has a theme of some kind, an organising goal or principle that acts as the source of emotional harmony and energetic co-participation. There are times, admittedly, when a theme can be implicit, or can spontaneously arise during a party, or can derive from the history of the community who make the party (as at Burning Man) but great parties are always, at some deep level, about something. (As an interesting aside, this mirrors the intentionality of consciousness).
At the Oregon Elipse, the theme was essentially cosmic. It was about the eclipse, but more generally it was about how we fragile humans are
The drugs were psychedelic; the scale demanded a seven-day party; the eclipse itself a moment of the profoundest meditative reflection.
At my parents’ 40th, the theme was family values, the love of a couple; at the Oregon eclipse, the
2. Great People
Like a murmuration of starlings, parties exist as an emergent property of all their participants’ behaviour. This is a miraculous phenomenon, and entirely beyond the scope of any kind of contemporary scientific discourse to model.
It follows that people and their behaviour are the essence of the party. One can observe that all other elements in our list of ingredients are simply ways of mediating the interactions of people withing the time-space of the party.
This has numerous and profound implications for party design; most obviously, getting great people to come is key. But equally, ensuring that those who come are committed to the party, motivated to co-create and participate. This is one of the reasons Burning Man is the greatest party in the world: the incredible levels of creative devotion of the community who reinvents it every year.
This point deserves elaborate treatment but I’ll make note here of a few of the basic laws of people-related party-organisation
Diversity is key
Whenever there are more than three people together, a virtual party begins to simmer in the space of the possible: add some beers and music, and this could very quickly become a happening.
Good parties, like Rugby teams, have people of all shapes and sizes: sexy people, rowdy people, dancers, intellectuals, drunkards, cynics,
Every attendee is a micro-host
Of course individuals may play many roles. In particular, there is a continuum between host and participant, so that hosts are also participants, and good participants will be constantly seeing opportunities for micro-hosting (whether initiating a singsong, rescuing a lonely participant, welcoming a new arrival, fixing an issue with the alcohol supply-chain or what have you).
Prioritise the fun people
Fun people are especially important guests at parties: their intuitive gift for perceiving the dynamics of the experience and acting on it have super-linear effects on the happening of a party. Fun people should always begin your act of invitation, for these superadditive reasons:
They are more likely to be up for attending or co-hosting a party
They are more likely to be naturally good and actually practised at holding space for fun, and seeing opportunities for fun.
They are more likely to be broadly recognised as such, and so be able to attract further great guests.
So in other words, if you’re hosting a party, a great rule of thumb is to invite the most fun people you know. And if you’re attending a party, never forget that your participation is constitutive of the party that emerges.
3. A narrative through time
Perhaps the greatest error people make with parties is failing to recognise the importance of sustained engagement over time. Experience is deeply temporally contextual, and to completely refresh that mental context, to flush out all of the deeper accumulated boringness and narrow preoccupations of the mind, can take two-four weeks: hence the typical length of a summer vacation, or the fact that hardcore burning man participants always go to “pre-burn” to help set the thing, and themselves, up.
This is where narratives come in. They accelerate and bring structure to the principle of refreshing experiential space. This requires time. In the context of parties, eight hours seems to be the minimum amount of time for the generation of valuable experience. But we also need to remember that the broader context of the party, including the invitation, the period of anticipation and the process of preparation are equally part of the critical context for the experiential dynamics of the party itself.
An interesting conceptual entrée into this is to meditate on why the amount of fun had at parties correlates so consistently with the difficulty of getting to them. When I first observed this, I assumed it was a coincidence. It seemed so counter-intuitive that my favorite parties were the ones where the car had broken down on the way; where I’d had to walk four miles over a snowy field; when I’d had to get a dangerous boat ride.
These moments when the journey provides unnecessary friction… at the time you feel furious, you regret the decision to attend the party. But such parties turn out again and again to be the best.
Why is this? Well, such adventures create new emotional space in our minds for experience, they generate distinctiveness from normal life and above all they encourage commitment.
4. Many different spaces
The spaces of a party are the containers that determine the tenor and dynamics of the interactions of the participants at each moment in time. We need lots of different spaces for all the moods people need to borrow from in the course of the party, and great parties always involve a multitude of spaces.
We can begin here by listing a small subset of the large variety of conversations a party needs to create space for:
Discussing deep new ideas
Seduction and flirtation
Each of these varieties of conversation demands a micro-world to house it: some combination of mood, context, decoration, degree of background noise, chance of interruption, etc. You don’t want to be engaged in a deep-and-meaningful in a crowd listening to jazz: that works better in a yurt at 3 a.m.
Hence for conversation alone, a diversity of spaces is foundational. But of course, great parties are much more than conversation. Participants have to be able to find spacetime for dance, for love-making, for sleep, for gossip, for shelter, for mischief in all its many varities. That’s why great parties always have a multitude of spaces.
In this context, the agency of party-cipants is key. The joy of parties is to have a degree of autonomy in navigating the pleasure-domes. A basic repertoire of spaces at a good bash will include neutral areas like toilets, chill out zones, raving zones, light dance zones, kitchen chitchat zones, spacious gardens.
5. Multisensory delights
Great parties almost always take pleasures to delight the senses. Delighting the senory organs has an interesting and potent incremental low-level effect on our consciousness: they stimulate, and they are pleasurable in themselves, and because of this they prime and attune our delight and pleasure, bring us back to the body: thus providing a natural precursor to debauchery, falling in love, having fun.
Lights . this interacts with principles of
Furs, silks, feathers,
Because of the principle of participation, when created and shared, treats like these give rise to extra sinews of emotional and intellectual connection at the party.
6. Great music
The liquid architecture of music is of course fundamental to parties, and barely requires explanation here. It plays two fundamental roles:
a) It makes people feel different
And if we double-click on what happens when it makes everyone feel different, it does so in a comprehensive fashion: music alters perception of time and space, emotion, mood. In one memorable study, people listening to German techno underestimated the speed of the cars they were driving by up to 50%.
b) It makes different people feel different in a similar way.
Thus, music is a vector of commonality: it brings people together into the same experiential spaces, and so connects them directly.
With its inevitable copartner dance, music provides an under-appreciated vector of virtual reality. The whole space of a room feels differently if you change the music.
Dancing is of course key. At every good party I’ve ever been to. Why is dancing so important?
It is, let’s face it, very boring being ourselves. The golden shimmering force of universal infinite consciousness pulses through us all, yet most of the time the lenses of our minds refract it down onto our council-tax bills, job frustrations, disappointments in ourselves, and counterfactual fantasies about, for example, how we might be more beautiful, or more effective.
Parties generally, and costumes specifically, are an extraordinary tool for freeing ourselves from the banality of ourselves, and expanding the scope and possibility of our imaginations.
Great costumes connect us with other narratives that bring joy and fun, they create distinctness from everyday experience, and their feedback-effects encourage us to be more interesting and daring.
They also help others at parties: they entertain others, providing sensory decoration and phenomenological arousal.
Of course, costume (combined with lighting) can elevate and make accessible people’s attractiveness, and this creates new opportunities for pleasure, naturally enough.
9. Mind-altering substances
Now I don’t wish to endorse the use of mind-altering substances. In my view, a ten-year apprenticeship in the art of classical memory techniques is the only legitimate form of psychoactive substance, and I worry a lot about the appalling cognitive effects of, for example, alcohol on people’s perceptual and intellectual capabilities.
That said, it cannot be denied that mind-altering substances are a universal feature of human happenings through the millennia. And that different substances have different qualities roles to play.
All psychoactive substances are, by definition, tools of consciousness, which interact of course with the broader experience of the spacetime of the party. Empirical data indicates that people will often take a number of different substances depending on where they are in the party, and that these substances are often constitutive of costume, music, etc. Alcohol is of course the most common substance across so many cultures.
Among the psychoactive effects of drugs is that they change visual and sensory acuity, affecting for example the vibrancy of colours and tastes; they alter mood, and interpersonal attitudes (love, openness etc), inflecting for example generosity; they affect the basic structure of experiential spacetime.
If we take the example of alcohol, it lowers people’s inhibition and critical intelligence making everyone more interesting and the expression of deeper desires come closer to the surface. This tends to enable more fun. In the case of psychedelics such as mushrooms, they seem from the written accounts I’ve been able to assess, to alter the quality and resolution of spacetime, and bring less distinctive cognitive discrimination between, as well as enhanced relationship to music.
10. Performances / entertainment
Performances create mnemonic foci or landmarks in the timespace of the party, and can in a way be viewed as worlds within worlds. Parties can hold on their shelves many different performances, but these of course work best when they are consistent with the theme of the party.
These can often be the most important, the most memorable things at parties
A poem can contain a universe
Performances create intense focal-points of experience
They are at their most powerful when they flow from the participants, and there is a witnessing and connection with the very people with whom you’re partying
How these ten ingredients come together in the invention of party/consciousness time-space
What unifies the ten ingredients of incredible parties is that each is a distinctive tool for acting on the shape of consciousness. Together, they offer a toolkit for the architecture of time-spaces of human consciousness.
Party-composers thus deploy costume, spaces, music, mind-altering potions, sensory delight, narrative and so on to create journies that bring the consciousnesses of their participants into new vistas.
When these tools are marshalled with intent towards a particular purpose (celebrating the arrival of Spring, someone’s marriage, the end of a war, global community) they enable party-goers to enjoy spectacular communal transformations of consciousness, attaining feelings and perceptions of the world, themselves, and their relation to each other that simply aren’t possible in other art forms like conversation, film, literature, or even the philosophical study of fundamental ontology.
Thus parties help people escape the strictures of their normal selves and voyage wild and deep into the frontiers of consciousness, which is to say of their own existence. And this is the thing about parties, they’re not a form of thinking about living, they *are* living. The changes they bring to consciousness are not a means to an end, they are the end. This is what is so spectacular and mind-blowing about the medium of parties, and helps account for their universal role across history at the heart of all that is good in human life.
On top of this, let’s not forget that these aren’t linear journeys like books and films; they’re not separable from the minds of their consumers. For party-goers have agency, they’re all on different journeys, and these spaces and experiences are co-created. The partygoers make the party, it is all inherently improvised and co-created.
Seen in this way, parties can be seen as co-created time-space journeys to lastingly new perception of how the world works, changing people for the better and creating meaning in their lives.
The process of enacting a party looks like collective invention, participative theatre, a massively multiplayer game, the original form of virtual reality.
A note on mind-world relativity
This theory of parties leans on the concept of mind-world relativity.
In follow up posts, I’ll address what extensions will be required to Relativistic Mathematics to capture the way that the timespace of parties relates to the timespace of the participants consciousnesses in law-like fashion.
I had the pleasure of going to a brief but masterfully delivered laughter meditation class at the Serpentine Gallery this last weekend by “musician, mystic and laughter meditation practitioner, Laraaji” who lead a series of workshops during the opening days of the Grace Wales Bonnerexhibition that has since become a lasting shrine of sound.
Here is a pic from the beginning of the workshop. I really dug his orange blanket full of treasures pregnant with spiritual meaning; combined with a tremendously trustworthy and calming American voice.
It was a cracking workshop, just 45 minutes long but during that brief time he effortless vehicled fifty members of the public into contagious laughter all the way from interactive song and contagious group laughter through to a delightful, “healing”, meditative space.
I wanted to make a note of what I felt were the masterful features of how he did it before I forget:
He’d begun already as we filed into the room with pretty music of the om-ic sort
He then led straight in without introduction to call and response, beginning with amusingly simple and enjoyable-to-copy sounds
These sounds were just at the limit of working memory, but satisfyingly effortless to recall like a six digit number spoken verbally (try having someone repeat “297692” vs 203618647″: the 8th number is the straw that breaks the phonological loop‘s back).
After having us sing back to him musically sounds along the lines of “tumtumtumtum”<>”tumtumtumtum” // lumlumtumtum<>lumlumtumtum, “tumbumbumtum”<>tumbumbumtum”, he gradually evolved the call and response into laughter-esque sounds along the lines of “hahatatahatahata”
Then he made quite a good joke about a landlord (somehow the worldly reference from such a guru made it unexpectedly funny, though I forget the joke).
Then he has us smile with our mouths and with our mouths and our eyes, and explore the difference in the latter and the feeling it occasions inside: actually feeling happier due to the feedback.
Then he has us all stand up and assume a liquid body (flopping around most liquidly, which allowed I guess any narky tension to flow away)
Then he had us hold our hands, consecutively, on our heads, throats, hearts, chest-bone, and belly and direct laughter to them and and explore the different qualities of laughter that brings resonance to these places.
By this stage we’re all feeling pretty doused in merriment
All the while playing pretty music
Then he had us bring our arms right up into the air, fill our lungs to the brim, and deflate in laughter: a neat way of making sure the internal force is there to power and laugh that begins, which proved very powerful and effective.
Going through this many times consecutively had us all overflowing with spontaneous laughter, which quickly became contagious in a way that itself is rather fascinating, and served to re-project one into hilarity every time one came off the ridge down into a trough of mere giggling.
Then he had us lie on our backs and listen to polyphonic gong and other nice instrument music as we basked in the afterglow of delighted sparkling emotion that follows deep laughter.
Here he is explaining it himself, meanwhile, to someone called Daniel Blumberg “from Hebronix”.